Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere


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Newton’s Third Law (for writers)

You remember those, right? Okay, nerd cap on for the refresher of Newton’s Laws of Motion:

  • First law: A body at rest tends to stay at rest; a body in motion tends to stay in motion (or simply, inertia). It’s like not wanting to get out of bed in the morning (body at rest), and then the cat (or dog) jumps on you and insists it’s time for breakfast/walk/pee break (an outside force affecting inertia 😀 ).
  • Second law: An object’s force is mass times acceleration. Think of it as the difference between a terrier running up to greet you and a Great Dane running up to greet you. One of these will be like catching a basketball, the other will body-slam you.
  • Third law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Remember those experiments way back in elementary school where the same poles of magnets would repel? Yep, kinda like that.

So, what exactly has this got to do with writing? Well, I was thinking (I know, scary 🙂 ) about characters and reactions.

Earlier this week I subbed at the library, because their high school staff member has basketball practice after school. And because it was after Thanksgiving, it was time to decorate for Christmas. Lexy (the high schooler) set up the tree already, so all I had to do was find stuff to put on the walls, etc.

The decorations are stored in the basement. So the staff member I was relieving led me into the basement to show me where things were. And one of the first things I noticed was this:

If you saw this in your basement, what would be your first reaction? Scream? Find something to hit it with? Or calmly say, “Hey, did you know you have a bat hibernating in the basement?”

Because the little guy wasn’t bothering anyone, and I knew it was sleeping, I picked the third option. (Honestly, bats don’t bother me because I know they eat bugs. Lots of bugs.)

Anyway, that (and every Sunday night’s America’s Funniest Videos episode) made me think about characters and how they react to things. A lot of our everyday activity is based on actions and our reactions to them. A character returns home from errands and finds the door to her apartment–that she is absolutely certain she locked–is unlocked. A character arrives after a call from a friend frantic about a break-in, and finds said friend on the floor unconscious and bleeding.

For every situation a character will react in a particular way. Does that character freak out when she finds the door unlocked? What about finding the friend? How does she handle the situation? Does she enter the apartment anyway? Does she run off to find help?

Characters should react the way we expect them to. An exterminator will not jump up on a chair when a mouse scurries across the kitchen floor. A firefighter will not run around frantically when they find their garage on fire.

Then again, sometimes it works to have a character react in an unexpected way. The nurse who retches when a patient vomits. Or, as seen on AFV, the mom who can’t bear to prep a raw turkey without gagging (no, she didn’t throw up, but it sounded like she usually did).

If a character reacts in a way the reader doesn’t expect, there must be a good reason for it. Is the nurse sensitive to odor? (of course, if he is, why on earth be a nurse?) Maybe he is going through chemotherapy and is extra-sensitive to odors. Maybe the mom who can’t stand to touch raw meat had to prep the turkey this year because her sister just got a new job and is working over Thanksgiving.

Sometimes it’s fun to have a character react differently than expected. It keeps things interesting, but it also has to fit the character. Case in point: I used to be an aircraft mechanic, and the only female aircraft mechanic where I worked. So one night I’m walking across the hangar and someone calls my name. I look, and this thing is arcing through the air in my direction. So I calmly stand where I’m at and watch a dead mouse hit the floor a few feet away.

I don’t know what my co-worker was expecting me to do, but I think he was disappointed, because I didn’t react the way he expected, i.e. like a girl. Another example is when one of the guys I worked with (same place) reacted to a moth fluttering around in the crew van we took to the gate. Imagine a little kid reacting to a moth–they dance around and swat at it. The next night, someone glued a dead cecropia moth to the top of his toolbox. Moral of the story: don’t let your fellow mechanics know you’re afraid of moths.

Make sure your characters react to situations in a way that fits their personality. If they react otherwise, give them a reason to do so. In case you were wondering about the bat, someone came the next day and removed it. And I found out that was the third bat they had found in the basement. Methinks a bat house might be a nice alternative.

And I made it for NaNo! Of course, I didn’t finish the story, but I’m a lot closer to the end than I was before. This weekend is forecast to be snowing and blowing, so I have a great excuse to hunker down and write.

Have a great weekend!

zoey asleep

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Endearing characters

zoey awake Rich characters are an author’s goal. If we can create characters that stick with readers after they have closed our book, we’ve done our job.

But we don’t always consider adding an extra little treat to our stories, especially if we write in the suspense or thriller genres.

Pets are something we can add to our stories to enrich them, and round out the human characters. I mean, many readers can relate to a character who has a dog that needs to be walked or a cat that insists on being let outdoors at the most inconvenient times.

In cozy mysteries especially, pets seem to be everything from sidekicks to co-protagonists. In the Fudge Shop Mysteries by Christine DeSmet, Lucky Harbor, a fudge-loving mutt, is both a sleuth and a troublemaker. In the Stephanie Plum mysteries by Janet Evanovich, Rex the hamster is Stephanie’s only roommate. More entertaining is Bob the golden retriever, a galoot who eats anything (including socks and underwear) and later “horks” it up.

Pets aren’t just for cozy mysteries, either. In J. D. Robb’s In Death futuristic police procedural series, Eve Dallas owes her life to the plump cat she names Galahad. Even in a few of the later Special Crimes Unit/Bishop Files books by Kay Hooper, she added dogs and a cat named Pendragon that all seem more than average.

Some of my favorite fictional pets appear in urban fantasy. One of my favorite urban fantasy series is the Dresden series by Jim Butcher. Harry Dresden lives alone in a basement apartment with Mister, a huge domestic cat, as his only freeloader–er, pet. Later, he acquires a foo dog, which is a mythic temple guardian in Tibet (think of those dog/lion statues you always see outside temples) that looks like a Tibetan mastiff. Mouse is one of my favorite fictional pets. He’s huge, but sweet. In Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series, Oberon is an Irish wolfhound who adds some comic relief.

If I could choose any fictional pet for my own, though, it’d be a close tie between Mouse and the firelizards from Anne McCaffery’s Pern series. I mean, who wouldn’t want tiny dragons to hang out with?

Adding a pet, or a stray that winds up as a pet, is a great way to give your readers another reason to feel connected to your characters. In my debut novel, I have a pet ferret as a little extra source of endearment. As I’ve been working on Book 2, I didn’t start out with a pet, but the more I write, the more I think a pet is needed. One of the characters went through cancer treatment, including surgery. Her husband would be worried, and lonely while his wife is in the hospital. Then there’s the time he can’t be at home with her while she’s recuperating. What better than a dog–or a cat–to keep them company?

Not every story needs a pet, but sometimes it makes sense. Remember, we want our readers to think of our characters as real people. Real people have pets. Besides, you never know when that pet will be the key to resolving a conflict or reaching a goal.

Amazingly, I have a free weekend–woo-hoo! I see two days of heavy writing in my future 😀

Write Well! Write On!

zoey asleep

 


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On to the next task

I sent it off yesterday. Yep, my manuscript, all revised/edited and everything.

Whew!

Now to take a sort of break. Hubs and I laid out the garden last night, and I started planting before it got too dark. The problem, though, is it’s raining today, so I won’t be able to put in the rest of the garden until tomorrow at the earliest, depending on how much rain we get. Probably not until Monday. Ugh.

My youngest is graduating from HS tomorrow, and her grad party is next weekend. And here I thought after I got my manuscript edited and sent off that I’d have a few days to relax and do, well, not nothing–my house looks neglected, and I have yet to completely finish unpacking after my mini writing retreat, so I won’t be kicking back and eating bon-bons (though I can see enjoying a nice glass of wine 😀 )

Anyway, apologies to everyone; I’ll be trying to catch up on blog reading this weekend, so I’ll get there 😀 I’m just really far behind!

After that, the next task will be outlining Book 2. I was struggling with it this past winter, but my Writing Sisters helped me out (love you guys!). I’ve got a more solid (and interesting) plot now. Multiple books in a series can be a challenge, especially when you write the first book without much thought about the next ones. I mean, unless you go in with a multi-book story arc for a trilogy (fantasy books are great for examples of this), how does an author come up with Book 2 or Book 3?

The exercise is fun, because you’ve spent so much time with the characters, additional books are an excuse to spend even more time with them–provided you aren’t tired of them. I knew the next books would take place at airports or at least around airplanes because my main character is a female aircraft mechanic. The options are to stick with the same setting in Books 2 and 3, or venture off to other places. Staying in the same place works for most mysteries, I think, but an airport is a pretty limited setting when you think about it. Just how many bad things (read: dead bodies) can happen at the same one, even if it is as big as the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport?

The fun thing is, every major and most minor cities have airports, and there are air shows throughout the summer, which are great venues for more nefarious stuff. Putting the main characters at a different location opens the door for more story opportunities, but that also means leaving behind (at least for a while) supporting characters the reader may have fallen in love with in Book 1.

For instance, in Book 1 I have a character who is like “a grandmother channeling Cher”. Fun lady, and one of my editor’s favorites, but she won’t appear in Book 2 because that book takes place in a different location than Book 1. Same with another supporting character, who is a friend of my male lead. The crime scene team leader is like the buddy you met in college, and you still get to work with each other on occasion. Kind of the “invite over for a weekend BBQ” or “watch the game” friend. My editor also liked him, but again, he won’t appear in Book 2.

So what do you do about those characters? Obviously, if a future story (provided your editor/publisher or another wants it) is set in the original location, those characters will appear. I feel kind of bad about leaving them out, because I like those characters, too. I won’t get back to them until maybe Book 4, but I may never write Book 4. Maybe I’ll write a novella that is set at the location in Book 1, just to spend time with those characters again.

Anyway. Rainy day activities like cleaning (ugh!) and catching up on reading blogs are on tap for today. May you have a great relaxing weekend! Write on!


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When Characters need a tune-up

Making up characters to star in your story is one if the best parts of writing fiction, at least in my mind. In my debut novel, I created this awesome character and cast her as a strong female protagonist, a woman in a man’s world who can hold her own.

Every main character should have something to round them out: a realistic background, a family of some sort, maybe close friends or pets, and often some challenge in their history that they have overcome or are working to overcome in the current story. Sometimes the obstacle is an addiction of some sort, like Kathy Reichs’ Temperance Brennan (alcoholism–oh man, I never noticed that before. Get it? Temperance is a recovering alcoholic). Maybe the character experienced a divorce or death in the family, like J. A. Jance’s Joanna Brady (first husband died). It doesn’t have to be a major hurdle; it could be as innocuous as losing a job, like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum or Kellye Garrett’s Dayna Anderson. And sometimes the character’s past is instrumental in shaping their present, like the abuse suffered by Eve Dallas and the life-on-the-streets struggle of her husband Roarke in J. D. Robb’s “In Death” series.

My protagonist survived her own trauma six years before the story starts. Not only did her ex-boyfriend stalk her after she dumped him, but he tried to kill her. By now, she’s taken back control of her life. Then he’s released from prison. No worries–he’s, like, over a hundred miles away–but little by little she notices things that make her question just how safe she is.

Oh, did I mention the detective on the case (psst, love interest 🙂 ) suspects she had something to do with the dead body she found? So, not only is my MC wary about the return of her ex-boyfriend, she’s trying to prove her innocence by looking for the culprit. Conflict? Check. Goal? Check. Obstacles she needs to get through to reach her goal? Check.

This is a mystery, so the MC should work on solving the case in some way, right? Cool. She shuffles the few puzzle pieces she has, and picks a direction based on what she knows. Then the Big Bad Ex shows up and proves he knows where she is.

Now, I’ve (thankfully) never gone through the type of trauma one would experience after being attacked like she was, but I can believe she would have some PTSD. She’s got her life back on track, but now the old fears and anxiety return.

Where does the tune-up come into play? Well, after talking things through with my editor and my agent, I realized my MC stopped working on the mystery once the baddie resurfaced, and instead spent her energy fighting against the old emotions.

In other words, she became a victim again, which weakens her role as a strong protagonist. She does break out of the victim archtype, but not to work toward the story goal; she breaks out to save her skin (and in the process discovers something that cracks the case, which does work toward the story goal). The main mystery-solving efforts now come from the male MC (yeah, I know it’s his job, but he’s not the headliner).

Once I finally figured that out (took me long enough–sheesh), how do I fix it? Enter my wonderful Writing Sisters and the brainstorming wall. We hashed it out and came up with a couple small things I can add. Those bits will help my protagonist break through the victim archetype and refocus her energy toward the main story goal. It also tunes up her character by reminding her of her strengths, and that the black moment in her past can help her in the present.

Bottom line, it’s okay for the MC to lose power, or become a victim (the midpoint crisis), but s/he needs to come back strong in order to keep his/her position as the star of the show.

On the non-writing related front, here’s what my daughter got me for Mother’s Day. I think my book dragon will like the company:

dragon1_cr

It’s a sort of terrarium–there’s some dirt under the purple rocks, and a succulent behind the dragon. There’s a bit of moss as well. Here’s another angle:

The little dragon is so adorable! The container is a teardrop shape, with a twine hanging loop. I don’t have a good spot to hang it, or a decent spot to set it right now, but it’s too cute not to put someplace where I can see it every day.

Now my Muse has two junior muses to contend with. Mwahahahaha! Heh, it’s a good thing he’s out on a pub crawl. 😀

Spring/summer (ugh, 80F is too warm for May) is here–woo-hoo! No garden planting plans quite yet, but I do have to clean last year’s debris out of the asparagus patch so I can find the spears when they start to come up. *rubs hands together* I can’t wait!

Have a great writing weekend!